BATHURST, N.B. – A unique memorial has transformed the site where seven young basketball players were killed into an evocative representation of the game the boys loved.
Two basketball nets were erected Sunday in the snow where a passenger van from Bathurst High School crashed after colliding with a transport truck early Saturday morning, killing the seven teenage boys and the wife of the team’s coach.
A steady stream of cars drove by the site of the accident on Sunday on a highway leading into the northern New Brunswick city. People stopped to lay flowers and light candles in the snow, still littered with debris from the crash.
One teenage boy stared at the makeshift basketball court in the snow, tears streaming down his cheeks. He was too upset to speak.
Several bouquets of flowers were stuffed into one of the basketball nets.
“Being here and seeing the accident scene is surprising,” said Norman Gallant, a retired teacher from the city’s French high school who knew one of the young victims.
“The road is so straight and so close to Bathurst.”
Gallant said he had assumed the accident must have happened on a curve.
In fact, the extended, 15-seat passenger van fish-tailed and lost control on a straight part of the highway, and swerved into an oncoming tractor-trailer.
Four people survived the violent crash, which tore their van apart and ejected the victims.
Three team members did not make the trip to Moncton for Friday night’s game. Vice-principal Don McKay said they stayed home because of sickness.
Police are still investigating the accident, but they have said they believe it was caused by poor road conditions. Snow and freezing rain made roads hazardous in the Bathurst area.
The eight victims died at the scene.
Before the start of their NBA game against the Portland Trailblazers on Sunday, the Toronto Raptors paid silent tribute to the crash victims at the Air Canada Centre.
The accident happened only minutes away from Bathurst where moms and dads had gathered at a local fast-food restaurant to wait for the boys to come home.
The Bathurst High Phantoms, a senior varsity team, was returning from a game against Moncton High, about 220 kilometres to the south. The Phantoms had lost the game.
The team’s coach, Wayne Lord, was driving the van. In addition to his 51-year-old wife, Elizabeth Lord, who was killed, his daughter was in the van and was among the four injured survivors.
The coach himself was slightly hurt and has been released from hospital.
Five of those who died – Nathan Cleland, Justin Cormier, Daniel Hains, Javier Acevedo and Codey Branch – were 17 years old. The other two students were Nickolas Quinn, 16, and Nicholas Kelly, 15.
School superintendent John McLaughlin said at some time in the future, school officials will look at the policies and practices surrounding travel by school sports teams.
“But it’s too early for that now,” he said
Makeshift memorials also appeared on Sunday at the Bathurst High School, where about 800 students attend classes.
“Rest in peace, boys,” read a card on one of the bouquets of flowers at the entrance to Bathurst High School.
“We will have you in our hearts forever.”
Classes are scheduled to resume Monday, but McLaughlin said the emphasis will be on providing a place for students to find support.
A public wake is planned on Tuesday followed by a public funeral for the victims of the crash on Wednesday.
Gaetan Boudreau, a local psychologist, said he had coached Quinn, Kelly and Acevedo in soccer for the past five years.
The boys were supposed to play in a tournament on Saturday with FC Chaleur, but instead photos of them were posted inside the indoor soccer facility in Nigadoo, outside of Bathurst.
Their teammates also paid tribute to the young victims during the game, which they won.
“Every time they were scoring, they were putting their fingers in the air, like trying to communicate something with heaven,” said Boudreau.
“They were dressed for the occasion with a black stripe on their arm.”
Boudreau said the three boys were a coach’s dream.
“Javier (Acevedo) had the warmest smile of all the soccer players I have known. Nick Quinn was the most positive leader in his age group. Nick Kelly was so dedicated to his sport he was always the first to accept any physical contact or risky business to help his team,” he said.
“They were really dedicated to the team. Not just to the sport, but to the team.”